By Joe Tralongo, Contributing Editor
Once a simple, unassuming hatchback, the 2017 Volkswagen Golf line has grown to include an all-electric e-Golf, two high-performance trims (GTI and R) and a wagon (reviewed separately). Although the fuel-economy champ TDI diesel is no longer offered, the Golf TSI’s standard 1.8-liter turbocharged gasoline engine returns highway fuel economy in the 35-mpg range and is a rather peppy performer. While competitors like the Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra have caught up to the Golf in terms of performance and comfort, the 2017 VW Golf still displays a more upscale feel. Its German heritage delivers excellent driving characteristics that still seem to elude Hyundai and Honda, although the Mazda3 trumps the Golf TSI in both handling and fuel economy.
With its European-inspired handling, Audi-like interior fit and finish and impressive safety features, Volkswagen’s 2017 Golf feels like a big car in a little package. The Golf’s varied lineup includes the GTI and all-wheel-drive R, two of the best compact-performance cars on the market.
For 2017, VW has dropped all 2-door models, and reduces the number of trims on the TSI to just two: S and Wolfsburg. There’s a new Sport trim for the GTI, while the Autobahn gains adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking and an available upgraded Driver Assistance Package.
While the most popular trim in the Golf lineup is the TSI model with the 1.8-liter turbocharged engine, for just a bit more green you can climb into a 210-horsepower...
... GTI. Even with its 170-horsepower output, the Golf TSI is pretty peppy, handles better than most compacts and is amazingly refined and quiet. A 5-speed manual transmission is still offered on the Golf, with a 6-speed for the Golf R and GTI. The GTI and R trims offer the excellent DSG dual-clutch automatic, which can be shifted manually via a set of steering-wheel paddle shifters. In the GTI and Golf R, thickly bolstered sport seats hold the driver snuggly during aggressive driving, but can be a bit confining on long drives. Speed demons with deep pockets will appreciate the Golf R’s sub-five-second zero-to-60-mph run, as well as the tenacious grip afforded by VW’s 4Motion.
CENTER-CONSOLE TOUCH SCREEN
Not as large as some competitors’ screens, the 2017 VW Golf’s standard 6.5-inch color touch screen includes capacitive-touch sensors that mimic your smartphone. The design permits swiping and pinch/zooming gesture control.
Standard on the new Sport trim, this package brings the brakes from the Golf R along with an electronic limited-slip differential, 18-inch alloy wheels and a 10-horsepower bump for a total output of 220 horsepower.
The VW Golf for 2017 continues a tradition of having an upscale look to its interior, using high-quality materials, soft-touch surfaces and, on higher trims, piano-black accents. The cabin has generous shoulder room in both rows. Cargo volume is 16.5 cubic feet below the parcel shelf and 22.8 cubic feet to the roof. Loading is made easy thanks to a low liftover in the rear hatch. The rear seat has a 60/40-split rear-folding back, expanding the load space to 52.7 cubic feet when lowered. There’s plenty of front-seat storage in the center console and door panels.
Despite numerous redesigns over the decades, the 2017 VW Golf line is instantly recognizable. While the 2-box profile is the same as the original Golf, the surfaces are highly tailored with crisp character lines that start at the base of the steep hood and narrow horizontal grille, which is flanked by sharp headlight clusters. The distinctive C-pillar treatment recalls earlier Golf generations, adding to the familiarity of the overall look. The car sits low to the ground and has a wide track, giving it a more muscular, purposeful appearance. All Golf models are now 4-door-only affairs.
Among the Golf S trim’s standard features are power windows and door locks, air conditioning, a touch-screen infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity, alloy wheels, cloth seating, steering-wheel controls, rearview camera and cruise control. The Wolfsburg adds V-Tex Leatherette seating, a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, push-button start, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic detection and autonomous braking. GTI SE models add the Fender Premium Audio System, rain-sensing wipers and leather seats. The Autobahn brings unique 18-inch alloy wheels, navigation and sport comfort seats with 12-way-power adjustment. In addition to blistering performance, the Golf R offers leather seats, automatic climate control and bi-xenon headlights.
A 6-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission is available on Golf TSI models, while the GTI and R offer the 6-speed DSG automatic. A Driver Assistance Package includes autonomous braking, adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitor. On cars already equipped with these features, the package adds lane assist, front and rear park-distance control, park-steering assist and auto high beams. On the GTI, options include an adaptive-damping system and a performance package, which includes larger brakes. Golf R models can be further upgraded with VW's DCC adaptive-damping system that can tailor the car for Comfort, Normal or Race modes.
Golf engines include a turbocharged gasoline 4-cylinder in 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter displacements. The TSI models use a 1.8-liter engine available with a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, while the GTI's 2.0-liter comes with a 6-speed manual transmission or, optionally, the 6-speed DSG automatic. The 292-horsepower 2.0-liter Golf R has all-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual along with an available DSG. Unleaded regular is recommended on the 1.8-liter TSI, while the 2.0-liter GTI and R require premium fuel. The e-Golf uses an electric motor and has an estimated range of 100 to 115 miles. It can recharge in about four hours on a 240-volt outlet and is compatible with DC fast-charging stations.
1.8-liter turbocharged inline-4 (Golf TSI)
170 horsepower @ 4,500 rpm
200 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 25/36 mpg (manual), 25/35 mpg (automatic)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (GTI)
210 horsepower @ 4,500 rpm
220 horsepower @ 4,700 rpm (optional Performance Package)
258 lb-ft of torque @ 1,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 24/34 mpg (manual), 24/32 mpg (automatic)
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 (Golf R)
292 horsepower @ 5,400 rpm
280 lb-ft of torque @ 1,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/31 mpg (manual), 23/30 mpg (automatic)
AC synchronous electric motor (e-Golf)
115 horsepower @ 3,000 rpm
199 lb-ft of torque @ 0-3,000 rpm
EPA-estimated range per full charge: 100-115 miles
EPA city/highway fuel economy equivalent: 126/105 mpge
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) for VW’s 2017 Golf S is $20,714 including destination charges, which is competitive against comparably equipped Kia Forte, Ford Focus, Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza. The sporty GTI starts just shy of $26,500 and tops out around $36,000 for the DSG-equipped Autobahn. The Golf R starts around $36,500. The e-Golf begins just over $36,000 before incentives and is available in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, D.C. To make your best deal, check KBB’s Fair Purchase Price, which shows what others paid for their Golf. Traditionally, Golfs tend to play on the weaker side of the residuals field, although values for the GTI trims tend to be much higher.